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Hexcrawl Encounters: Sketching Things Out

Thank you for tuning in as I continue my working process to build up a better way of running and generating random encounters in my hexcrawl. I take very little credit for amalgamating lots of various sources and ideas: Alexandrian, Ars Phantasia, Ivan Cannon, Ivan Cannon, Blog of Holding, Gnome Stew, and generous people on Google+here and here. Let me start with my random encounters, and then I’ll discuss my evolving process.


334535 [Afternoon] 2 {Empty} Lost 1 Trap 3:

Location (6/2 + 1 ~ 4) Rugged Out of Place Strange Rough.

Keyword (3/2 + 1 ~ 2) Humans Peace

“The terrain around you begins to get rougher until you come upon an unusually tall hill, extending up above a layer of low clouds.” At the top is a group of 7 humans taking a break at the peak, meditating in the cold.

[Evening] 14 {Monster + Treasure} Lost 3 Trap 3

Location (5/2 + 1 ~ 3) Sparse Dry Impasse

Lair Uncommon Demi-Human Indifferent

“A ravine stretches into view and you see a squat stone bridge set just askew of the path you were traveling.” When the players approach, 3 halflings in dark purple cloaks stand at the beginning of the bridge motioning for the players to halt. They seek a toll to be paid in coin or in oath for people to pass the bridge they built and maintain. “How will you be paying, Trick or Treat?”. The price is moderate and the oaths are silly but binding, with the player suffering a curse if they break their word. Entertaining oaths are going to get the gnomes interest, otherwise they’ll suggest things like giving up the ability to use swear words, the promise to steal unattended socks, or other mischievous ends. The rest of the family, twenty in total, has another ten fighting fit members and live in a home built in the underside of the bridge. Small trapdoors on either side of the bridge lead into the home where the family has collected a small fortune in coins and valuables.




I started by rolling out some numbers for encounters for three different days. The first one I rolled a d20 for turned up as Empty by the D&D basic system. So that’s as good a place to start as any.

Empty Encounters, I want them to work more like empty rooms in dungeons and less like fluffy wastes of time. Therefore, empty shouldn’t mean nothing to do, but rather they should have some mote of interesting to them, a tangential plot relation, an interesting situation, or a whiff of suspicion about them that makes them more important than the monotony of traveling. So how do I get to there from nothing? I’ll need some sense of the key points of this encounter, but nothing too specific that will be rendered useless if the players get to unexpected terrain. Maybe keywords would be best. I would also like something to describe the terrain in biome-less ways so that if combat or anything comes up, it is easy for the players to relate to mentally relate to the space, the locale. As I formalize the system and work out the kinks, I may change the words and spell them out more explicitly, but for now free word association is the name of the game.

Keywords (d12): Dead, Animals, Humans, Remains, Blockage, Structure, Peace, Violence, Resource, Trash, Shortcut, Life.

Locale (d12):  Dry, Wet, Crowded, Sparse, Settled, Rugged, Impasse, Wall, Strange, Out of Place.

With keywords, I tried to go with dualities of broad themes. If I need to add more in the future, there’s room but I think these hit things well enough to build a theme from whatever is rolled there. Just one keyword per encounter wouldn’t be much structure to build from, so I decided to use (1d6/2)+1 keywords per encounter, rounded down. The interplay of the keywords or the rare event of a single keyword is much more structure to build a narrative off of. I rerolled any matching results I got, but I may not do this in the future if the possibility of repeat keywords might add more possibilities than it costs in extra creative energy.

I did the same thing with the locale, using the (1d6/2) +1 rounded down method. However, with these I wanted to reference things that would affect a location tactically or aesthetically, much the same way as the type of floor, walls, doors, or large furniture might be the first words that come to mind to describe a dungeon room. I found that I always had trouble framing the areas of encounters before. I usually resolved this by throwing down some trees, rocks, and vegetation on the table, but this after the fact measure visibly left my players without a strong mental connection to the spaces they were engaging. This was a big contrast with being able to describe a room as a smith, a barracks, or a latrine. My players would instantly connect to the space and even if some of their assumptions were incorrect, they had a starting point to work from. Now, when I describe an encounter, I can use these location descriptors along with their current hex’s terrain to generate that same starting point. My best random encounters have worked from a familiar point: the ruined temple, the hilltop, or the road cutting through thick forest.

After that, I rolled up a Monster + Treasure encounter. I am fairly confident in my abilities to create suitable battles on the fly, so this one I mostly want to tweak with reference to the same changes I made to empty rooms. I rolled up a set of locale descriptors for the encounter. Then, I decided I wanted a better system for determining how the monster encounter is happening so I made and rolled for each of the groups below to create an outline.

Location (d6): 1 Stalking, 2-3 Monster Tracks, 4 Leavings, 5-6 Lair.

Rarity (d6) : 1-3 Common, 4-5 Uncommon, 6 Rare

Type (2d6): Construct, Magical, Demi-Human, Monstrous Humanoid, Humanoid, Beast, Vermin/Ooze, Magical Beast, Undead, Aberration, Planar

Reaction (d6): Frenzied, Hostile, Defensive, Indifferent, Neutral, Friendly

Each of these are intended to help me build an outline for the encounter, with the structure intending to help increase my creativity. I don’t want to be paralyzed with an abundance of choice. Location is to show during what part of the creatures day the players have crossed paths. Stalking indicates that the creature is now following the players for some reason, intending to initiate contact at some later point. Tracks are recent markings or clues that will lead an interested party right to the monster. Leavings are older tracks, ones that would identify the creature and give some clues to the location of its lair if investigated. The lair is the nest or home of the creature, and the creature is presumed to be present.

The treasure portion of things is fairly well covered by my treasure hoard generator, values notwithstanding. I have no insights to give here, other than to use whatever treasure generator you would normally use, or even prewrite a bunch of treasure hoards out and then draw from that list randomly.

Each encounter will have its own chance for traps and getting lost. If there is a trap or a chance of getting lost, then a second roll determines if the warning signs are related to a real problem or not. Investigating those signs always gives the right answer but takes time, with higher perception making the process faster. Clever players can sidestep any risk of such things by taking the right actions: stepping around a suspect patch of ground, consulting a map, etc. Getting lost forces the party’s navigator to make a check or choose: randomly move or wander then backtrack (either way losing the same amount of time). If the navigator fails badly, then I get to choose. Investigating the signs of getting lost is an automatic protection against getting lost. I’ll go into more detail of the signs as I get a better grip on what works and what doesn’t.

Lost (d6): On a ‘6’, roll again. 1-3 is the severity, reduced by player actions. Unless it’s 0 or less, the navigator saves against getting lost, 4-6 False Signs.

Trap (d6): On a ‘6’ roll again. 1 Hazard, 2 Weather, 3 Trap, 4 False Hazard, 5 False Weather, and 6 False Trap.
For now that’s all I’ve got, and I’ve started a few discussions on G+ Communities I’m a part of. Leave a comment here or discuss there, I really appreciate any input you can give.


3 thoughts on “Hexcrawl Encounters: Sketching Things Out

  1. You might want to take a look at the One-Page Wilderness System (, and hack it so that it has some truly random encounters. It’s what I do for my hexcrawl.


    1. You’re not the first to suggest that tool. When I finally get something put together, I’ll be using big chunks of that to draw from.

      What sort of hacks to that system do you use in your game?


  2. In my current game, I have #12 as a purely random encounter, and I place the lair on the map with a quick roll (1d6 for direction, 1d6-3 for hexes away, and if it’s negative, you’ve hit its lair; I have a few tweaks, but that’s basically it). In retrospect, I should have had more of them be random, maybe taking away one each from 1-4 (in-hex encounter) and one or both of the other sure-fire encounters (5-6, which is 1 hex away, and 7-8, which is 2 hexes away), but I went out of my way to place the little lairs before I hit upon that tweak. The mountain lion encounter he gives is a good example of a lair that should be from a random table, not pre-placed, as it doesn’t affect the other encounters on the map at all, and it really isn’t worth the write-up.


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